The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, on October 26, 2022, announced that new Naira notes would be introduced to replace the 200, 500, and 1,000 Naira notes.
Emefiele said the redesign notes will take effect from Thursday, December 15, 2022, and existing notes would cease to be legal tender by January 31, 2023.
Unfortunately, between the introduction date of the redesigned naira notes and the deadline, not many Nigerians had seen the new notes or accessed them, hence the extension of deadline for naira swap to February 10.
The policy which has received both negative and positive comments from Nigerians has been heavily criticised for the poor timing as the people now groan under hardship.
It is no longer strange to see unmanageable queues at Automated Teller Machines, ATM, customers rising as early as 2am to have vantage spots on the line and ended up with less than N5,000 notes as take home after 6hours.
The riotous situation looks like the Stone Age experience. Citizens who are unable to access either the new or old naira notes are suffering untold hardship. Most of the affected persons are exhibiting a cocktail of frustration, anger and disappointment. In some areas, people are exhibiting wild, weird and even absurd behaviours to compel the banks to give them money no matter how little to survive the hard times.
The financial crises caused by this unguarded policy in the last few weeks are uncalled for. Not only has the naira redesign cum cash swap resulted in scarcity of local currency or cash withdrawal limitations, which Nigerians have not experienced before, the masses now have taste of hunger even when they have hundreds of thousands of naira in their bank accounts.
Before now, it used to be the foreign currencies in the black market, Nigerians now buy their own local currencies with the same naira, as getting little cash to make purchases become more difficult than getting visas for overseas trip!
The queue at the banks ATMs is endless. The struggle is energy sapping. People spend most part of their productive time at the banks, only to get as little as #2000 or nothing. Those who can go through the pain of waiting for a long time before getting cash now sell to those who can’t sacrifice their time.
Another set of merchants cashing out on this disturbing situation are the Point Of Sale, POS operators who are exploiting the cash crunch. To get N,5000 from an Operator, people pay between N700-N1000, depending on the naira merchant or POS operator.
Small businesses have been negatively affected, with small enterprises closing down temporarily due to inaccessibility of cash. The ripple effect is unimaginable, because, many of these traders run their businesses through loans acquired from microfinance banks. Some pay back monthly while others service their loans weekly. What happens when the lenders come for their money with interests?
Also, many local suppliers don’t have banking culture but deal in cash. The cash crunch implies collapse of their businesses. The list is simply endless; Mobility through public transport, petty purchases, airtime, TV subscriptions, groceries and other food items are done with cash.
Videos of horrible happenings at the banks are in the social media, men and women going naked to prove the urgency in their cash need, their hard earned money. This is not government grants! Elders weeping their hearts out like babies.
If you ask around, Nigerians would never imagined that such days will come, when able bodied and working class citizens will experience difficulties in accessing their money. Beggars must be close to hell in their daily experiences.
Assistance to beggars in major Nigerian cities has always been in lower Naira denominations, so it is assumed that beggars were always in abundance, supplied. Petty traders, sometimes go to these beggars to get them for the lower denominations, for trading.
The cash crunch caused by the Nigerian Central Bank’s Naira swap policy has changed the narrative, as the beggars wait in vain for the crumbs that refuse to drop.
They sit on the pedestrian sidewalks at various locations in Lagos. They stretch their hands to beg for money, while their mouths mutter different sing-songs in their local language, in sync with one another. Crippled, blind and aged, they are all united by similar fate: they are all beggars. While some of them wear oversized clothes, the ones whose clothes sit well on them look unkempt.
They flash at you, teeth tainted yellow with kola-chewing. A closer observation shows that the men sit some distance away from the women. Obviously, for religious reason! While some of their children sit busily to finger leftover foods, others hold, by hands, their blind parents.
They now groan in lack, hunger and more hardship. Many of them get lesser wads of cash than they used to. Emefiele’s policy has taking its toll on them.
Musa Danladi is a beggar at Ijesha, Surulere. He reveals that people who used to give him and his friends alms do not do so anymore.
“I am tired of hunger. I initially thought I was going to die. Every one stopped sending help to us almost at the same. I am crippled, I can’t work. Nobody will employ me”
Fatima Toure couldn’t share her thoughts audibly. She tried to put words together amidst tearful eyes. Apparently, she and her aged mother didn’t plan for the unpleasant experience. She kept pleading ,if the government can take decisions to ameliorate their situation.
For blind Usman Said in Olodi-Apapa, life seems to be unfair. His parents were killed by insurgents in Yobe state. He lost his sight on the same day, through an attack. ” I got to know about the CBN policy through my friend who is an okada rider. We will be happy if it can be reversed because we don’t get financial aid anymore. We were told that government is against people carrying cash around. We plead for mercy. We are Nigerians “
If able-bodied men are lamenting hunger and anguish, the situation of the beggars are better imagined. Men, women, traders, students, beggars etc are lamenting their pains this season, it is hoped that the government will reconsider the policy or find a way ameliorate impact of the policy on all Nigerians.